Reconciliation’s New Frontier

In France, May 10 is a day to commemorate the abolition of slavery. January 27 is the day we remember the Holocaust, through the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. In a few days, there will be ceremonies to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the revision of Captain Alfred Dreyfus’s conviction on charges of espionage in a trial that tore the country apart.

France in particular, but also Europe in general, seems to be in a mood for remembering and repenting. It all looks as if the need to integrate communities within nations, to reconcile them with their past in order to unite them around a common identity and therefore a common project for the future, has replaced Europe’s now-completed mission of reconciling old enemies like Germany and France.

For decades, “reconciliation” and its most remarkable achievement – the Franco-German rapprochement – was the trademark of the project to create an ever closer union in Europe. Reconciliation may seem far off for, say, the peoples of Japan, China, and South Korea, but it is taken for granted by today’s Europeans.

Except for the Balkans, most European nations are at peace with each other. The genes of war now express themselves on the soccer field; competition for land has been replaced by competition for medals and titles. The first Franco-German history book was released recently, and, according to its team of writers, it was not the past and the Nazi years that constitute a source of contention between French and German historians, but the present and in particular relations with the United States.